How to Grow Sago Palms

Unique, Long-Lived, But Toxic

Sago Palm

Blondinrikard Fröberg / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Despite their name, sago palms aren't palm trees at all. These attractive, low-growing plants are actually cycads, a large group of ancient tropical and subtropical plants. Because they are native to warmer climates, In most areas of the country sago palms must be grown as a houseplant.

Sago palms are extremely slow-growing and often put out only one new frond each year. It can easily take a sago palm five or six years to achieve its full pot size of 2 feet. These plants are important in tropical landscapes and yield a distinctively Asian look to any houseplant collection.

Sago Palm Growing Conditions

Sago palms are not difficult to grow, but they do require some specific growing conditions.

  • Light. Sago palms prefer bright indirect light. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight in the summer.
  • Moisture. Keep the soil continuously moist throughout spring and summer and reduce watering in the winter. Sago palms do not tolerate too much water; it's best to allow the plant to dry out between waterings.
  • Temperature. The sago palm thrives in warm, humid conditions. It is hardy to 50 F, but must not be placed near-freezing drafts.
  • Soil. Plant in a well-drained potting mix and fertilize in spring and throughout the growing season.
  • Outdoor Options. In warm areas, the plant can be moved outside in its container if it is placed in an area of dappled sunlight.

Propagation

Palm propagation is by seed, but most people do not attempt to propagate sago palms at home. Few home-grown plants produce cones—the cycads version of flowers—and it takes both a male and female plant to produce viable seeds. In warm areas with perfect conditions, sago palms may produce suckers that can be potted up individually.

Sago Palm Potting Soil and Repotting Schedule

Sago palm houseplants do best in well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter. Any high-quality potting soil is acceptable. The plant prefers a neutral pH—about 6.5 to 7.0. If the pH is off, use the appropriate organic fertilizer to alter it. 

Because they grow so slowly, sago palms only need repotting about every three years. However, every spring, it's a good idea to gently remove the plant from its pot and refresh the potting medium to ensure continued healthy growth.

Grower's Tips

In their native, subtropical environments, sago palms grow into much larger specimens, with arching fronds that easily measure 4 feet and often produce suckers that can be individually potted. In the home, you can replicate these conditions by misting frequently and providing plenty of summer warmth. Consider moving them outside in warm months. Scale bugs are a considerable problem in some areas, so treat aggressively at the first sign of yellowing in new growth. Yellowing can also be caused by poor drainage or nutrient deficiency.

Varieties

Sago palms are cycads, belonging to the Cycad family and the Cycas genus. Although there are about 40 species in the Cycas genus, the only one seen commonly in the United States is the C. revoluta or common sago palm.

Toxicity Warning

All parts of the sago palm are toxic to humans and pets, but the seeds (nuts) are the most toxic part. If you have small children, dogs or cats, take care to keep this houseplant away from them. The toxicity level is severe and an affected child or pet that ingests part of the plant requires immediate medical attention.